1902 Encyclopedia > Dumas

Count Matthiew Dumas
French general and military historian
(1753-1837)




COUNT MATTHIEU DUMAS, (1753-1837), a French general and military historian, was born at Montpellier of a noble family, on the 23d November 1753. He joined the army in 1773, and entered upon active service in 1780, as aide-de-camp to Rochambeau commander-in-chief of the army sent to aid the Americans in their war against England. He had a share in all the principal engagements that occurred during a period of nearly two years. Shortly after the capture of Yorktown, in which he took part, he joined the expedition under Vandreuil intended to make an attack on Jamaica. On the conclusion of peace with England in 1783 he returned to France, where he soon afterwards received his commission as major. In 1784 he was sent to explore the archipelago and the coasts of Turkey, a service in which he was engaged for two years, and which he performed with great thoroughness. He was present at the siege of Amsterdam in 1787, where he co-operated with the Dutch against the Prussians. At the Revolution he acted with Lafayette and the constitutional liberal party, whose aim was to effect a complete reform without abolishing monarchy. He was intrusted by the Assembly with the command of the escort which conducted Louis XVI. to Paris from Varennes, where he had been arrested. In 1791 he was appointed to a command at Metz, where he rendered important service in improving the discipline of the troops, and in organizing the first battalion of horse artillery that was formed in France. Chosen a member of the Legislative Assembly in the same year by the department of Seine-et-Oise, he advocated with firmness and eloquence the principles and policy of the constitutional party to which he belonged. In the following year he was elected president of the Assembly. When the extreme republicans gained the ascendancy, however, he became a marked man, and judged it prudent to make his escape to England. Returning after a brief interval under the apprehension that his father-in-law would be held responsible for his absence, he arrived in Paris in the midst of the Reign of Terror, and had to flee to Switzerland to avoid the fate of his friends Barnave and Duport Dutertre. Soon after his return to France he was elected a member of the Council of Ancients. On the triumph of the extreme revolutionists in 1797, Dumas, being proscribed as a monarchist, made his escape to Holstein, where he enjoyed the hospitality of Count Stolberg. During this exile he wrote the first part of his Précis des Événements Militaires, which was published anonymously in monthly numbers at Hamburg in 1800. Recalled to his native country when Bonaparte became first consul, he declined the prefecture of Bordeaux, preferring a military appointment. Intrusted with the organization of the army of reserve at Dijon, he was on the completion of the task appointed chief of the staff to that army. In 1801 he was nominated a councillor of state, and in the same year he was chosen to propose and defend in the Corps Législatif the formation of the Legion of Honour, of which order he afterwards (1810) became grand officer. Attached to the household of Joseph Bonaparte, Dumas went in 1806 to Naples, where he became minister of war. On the transfer of Joseph to the throne of Spain, and the accession of Murat to that of Naples, Dumas rejoined the French army, with which he served in Spain during the campaign of 1808, and in Germany during that of 1809. After the battle of Wagram, Dumas was employed in negotiating the armistice, and he was left by Napoleon at Vienna in order to super-intend the evacuation of Austrian territory by the French troops. In the disastrous Russian expedition of 1812 he held the post of intendant-generai of the army, which involved the charge of the entire administrative depart-ment. He shared the horrors of the retreat from Moscow, and the privations he suffered brought on a dangerous ill-ness, from which, however, he recovered after a brief interval of repose at Dantzic. Resuming his duties as in-tendant-generai, he took part in the battles of Lutzen and Bautzen. When the decisive defeat of Leipsic occurred, Dumas, who was stationed with the besieged army in Dresden, was employed to negotiate the unavoidable capitulation, the terms of which, though agreed to by the opposing general, were not ratified by the allied sovereigns. Dumas, who had gone to report the matter to the emperor, was consequently arrested and imprisoned in Hungary until peace was concluded in 1814. On the accession of Louis XVIII. Dumas received several important commissions in connection with the administration of the army. He had the entire confidence of the king, and would have been appointed minister of marine but for the adverse influence of the party that had been in exile during the empire. When Napoleon returned from Elba, Dumas at first kept himself in retirement, but he was persuaded by Joseph Bonaparte to present himself to the emperor, who intrusted him with the task of organizing the National Guards. This brought him into disfavour with the Bourbons, and he was obliged to retire upon half-pay when Louis XVIII. was restored to the throne. He devoted his leisure to the continuation of his Précis des Événements Militaires, of which nineteen volumes, embracing the history of the war from 1798 to the Peace of Tilsit in 1807, appeared between 1817 and 1826. A growing weakness of sight, ending in total blindness, prevented him from carrying the work farther, but he translated Napier's History of the Peninsular War as a sort of continuation to it. In 1818 Dumas was restored to favour through the influence of Gouvion Saint-Cyr, and admitted a member of the Council of State. In 1828 he was chosen a deputy by the first arrondissement of Paris. After the revolution of 1830, in the events of which he took an active part, Dumas was created a peer of France, and re-entered the Council of State as president of the war committee. He died at Paris on the 16th October 1837. Besides the Précis des Événements Militaires, which forms a valuable source for the history of the period of which it treats, Dumas wrote autobiographical reminiscences under the title of Souvenirs, which were published posthumously by his son (3 vols. 1839).







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